Ruth P. Watson on Chronicling the First Female Banker in US History, Who, By the Way, Was Black

Written by on May 9, 2024

Ruth P Watson - A Right Worthy Woman
Ruth P Watson – A Right Worthy Woman

*American history sometimes gets it wrong. The great accomplishments of American history somehow end up with Caucasian faces, overshadowing the monumental achievements of people of color. Ruth P. Watson, author, historian, and educator explores the journey of financial genius Maggie Lena Walker, in her book, “A Right Worthy Woman,” on the first female banker in the United States, who, by the way, was an African-American woman.

Her novel, based on the real-life journey of financial genius Maggie Lena Walker, the first female and African-American banker to establish and preside over a bank in the United States, has the backdrop of the Jim Crow era in Virginia.

Ruth found Maggie doing research for another project and Maggie’s story has found a way into all of Ruth’s works.

“I sort of stumbled on her some years ago, about 14 years ago when I was doing research for another book,” said Ruth P. Watson. “She (Maggie Lena Walker) started as a laundress’s child, she took in laundry for White people, and her mother was a former slave.

Watson continued: “She (Maggie) became an educator and she was always interested in economics. She taught her students how to count. And she encouraged her students.”

Ruth P Watson
Ruth P. Watson

Maggie Lena WalkerIn the early 1900s, teachers weren’t allowed to be married, which changed Maggie Lena Walker’s career trajectory.

“In those times, a married woman wasn’t allowed to be a teacher,” said Ruth. “She was smart. However, she was of mixed race, because her father was White.” Maggie Lena Walker, in 1903, chartered a bank, the St. Luke’s Penny Savings Bank, a monumental achievement, especially considering the treatment of women at that time.  “The bank never lost its creditability,” said Ruth. “Not during the depression, and through the Wall Street Crashes, the bank never went insolvent as the other banks did. In 1927, her picture appeared on the cover of Forbes Magazine.”

According to Womenshistory.org, “by 1924, the Penny Savings Bank had spread to other parts of Virginia and included more than 50,000 members. While other banks collapsed during the Great Depression, St. Luke’s Penny Saving survived. Eventually, the bank consolidated with two other large banks and moved to downtown Richmond, Virginia, where it is still in operation today.”

Ruth P. Watson’s first historical novel, “Blackberry Days of Summer,” which covers a family plagued with deceit, betrayal, and triumph, was adapted into a musical stage play and nominated for the Prestigious Helen Hayes Award. Ruth’s work was placed in nomination by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Watson’s other novels include “An Elderberry Fall,” “Cranberry Winter,” and the children’s books “Hard Lessons,” “Our Secret Bond,” and “Who Said a Girl Can’t Be President.”

Ruth gears much of her writings to resonate with children. She explains: “I decided to write for children because I think of myself as a message writer and communicating with children is a step to ensure a better world and understand different cultures and our shared humanity of hopes and dreams. I want to create child-to-child handshakes and connections that expand beyond color, racial, and social boundaries.”  Ruth wants to direct her feature and her film heroes are Gordon Parks, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg.

Ruth P Watson
Ruth P. Watson
Ruth P Watson
Ruth P. Watson

Ruth P. Watson directed her short documentary “I’ve Paid My Dues, Now What?” which explores the consciousness of ex-felons and the challenges in integrating back into society. The short was chosen to air on Georgia Public Broadcast Channel and other PBS channels across the country.  She still feels “there are so many more stories to tell, along with directing both docs and features.”

Born and raised in Virginia, Ruth P. Watson credits her artistic flair for writing to her mother, who played guitar and could draw anything, a true artist. Ruth was a smart kid and did very well in science, which is why she was urged to major in Bio-Chemistry at HBCU Lincoln University in Oxford, PA, and continued to graduate school, earning a degree in Business Management from Central Michigan University.

She moved to Atlanta to be with her former husband and never left. She taught at a community college and worked as a senior project manager but found, very quickly, that her heart was in writing. She made the time to do research and share her ideas. The recipient of the Caversham Writer’s Residency, in KwaZulu, South Africa, and first runner-up in the Frank Derby Literary Award, she has hosted a “Step Up and Pitch It” summit in Atlanta, which educates the community on Atlanta’s growing film and television industry. She is also a former appointee on the Fulton County Arts Council and a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.

Ruth P. Watson is passionate about getting the word out on Maggie Lena Walker, who is not only a local U.S. history legend, but a worldwide legend that advanced the rights of all women, and not only women of color. Ruth Watson hopes that the challenges of Maggie Lena Walker can end up in a film, as well.

“We want this to be a film, whatever we need to do, I’m willing to do it to make sure Ms. Maggie gets her just due,” said Ruth P. Watson. Visit her website:  https://www.ruthpwatson.com/about-the-author208afa6a

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